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Hood: Commissioner can create, run health insurance exchange

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 22, 2013

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) -- Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says the state's insurance commissioner has the authority to create and run a health insurance exchange without the approval of Gov. Phil Bryant.

Bryant, a Republican, said in November said that establishing a non-free market health insurance exchange is "a gateway" to full implementation of President Barack Obama's controversial federal health care law in the state.

"The federal government has never funded a program it did not eventually control and expand, and I regret the submission of a letter of intent by the Insurance Department stating that Mississippi will establish a health insurance exchange as demanded under ObamaCare," he said in a Nov. 15 statement.

"This is one more step toward the largest entitlement program expansion in American history."

Hood, a Democrat, sided with Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney in his seven-page opinion, released last week.

Chaney, a Republican like Bryant, argues it is important for the state to set up its own exchange -- an online marketplace for people to shop for insurance -- so the federal government doesn't take over Mississippi's insurance market.

Obama's Affordable Care Act requires states either set up their own exchanges or the federal government will create them.

"The Governor asserts that an exchange could potentially become an expansive bureaucracy and presumably involve many complex issues," Hood wrote in his Jan. 15 opinion. "However, in this case, these factors, in the opinion of this office, militate in favor of the interpretation of the MID (Mississippi Insurance Department), the agency charged with execution of all insurance laws."

The attorney general said the state Legislature delegated authority to the insurance department and the commissioner "free from any approval or veto power to the governor."

Chaney told the Clarion Ledger last week that he is going to ask the federal Department of Health and Human Services to quickly rule on the state's exchange.

Bryant, meanwhile, has not said what he will do in response to Hood's opinion.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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